Forty-six health and social care professionals are thought to have died from COVID-19.
Nurses can refuse to treat patients if their safety is compromised through a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to new guidance by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
Writing to members earlier today, Dame Donna Kinnair stated that while refusing to treat a patient goes “against every instinct”, the government has left front-line workers “dangerously exposed”. She went on to tell members they are “trained to save lives, not to forfeit” their own.
Published earlier this week, the two-page document outlines the steps nurses must follow when deciding if the PPE provided is appropriate and if they feel their safety is being placed at risk.
It reads; “The RCN is acutely aware that members have reported a lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) in all health and social care settings during the crisis.
“There will be difficult decisions to be made by nursing staff whether to continue to provide care if it is not supplied.”
Exhausting all options.
“Use the link to the UK Infection Prevention and Control government guidelines to work out if the PPE provided to you is the right equipment for the setting in which you work.”
If PPE is not provided or is inadequate, nurses should “press for appropriate PPE to be provided immediately before you treat patients.”
“If the PPE is still not provided, then you must consider your own safety,” the document states.
“When considering the weight to be placed on your own safety, you are not simply taking your personal wellbeing into account. If you become unwell, you might spread infection through your community, including to high-risk patients.”
Once all other options have been exhausted “and you have not been given appropriate PPE in line with the UK Infection Prevention and Control guidance, you are entitled to refuse to work.”
The guidance then goes on to explain the potential legal consequences if a nurse take the decision to refuse treatment that is later criticised.
Use professional judgement.
Subsequent guidance from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) acknowledges that while staff may “need to refuse to provide care or treatment to an individual because it is not safe” they should make a detailed record of decisions and explain how professional judgment was used.
Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, Chief Executive and Registrar at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), adds; “it’s clear if we are to protect the public, then we’ve all got to do everything we can to ensure our nursing and midwifery professionals are able to practise as safely and as effectively as possible.
“We know that the consistent and timely availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) continues to be a significant challenge in health and social care across the UK. Understandably PPE is being raised with us by our registrants and their employers and is the focus of intense activity at a national level in all four countries.
“The statement we are publishing today clarifies the key points that nurses, midwives and nursing associates should take into account when applying the Code in practice and making considered professional judgements.”